Federation Cup holders Bengaluru FC will begin their title defence with a tough opening fixture against Aizawl FC at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl on Saturday. Ashley Westwood’s recently crowned I-League champions arrived in the north-eastern city after securing a berth in the last-16 of the AFC Cup on Wednesday night followed by a tedious thirteen-hour journey. But the gaffer said his side will look to brush off fatigue and bank on their consistency if they are to get the most out of the game.
“We’re champions on paper and that doesn’t mean too much. We will have to play like champions. This is football and inconsistency can creep in. Fortunately for us, we’ve been consistent through the League winning 10 games out of 16. But Aizawl is a tough place to come to and it will be a hard match,” said Westwood while addressing the media on Friday.
The new format of the Federation cup pits the top eight teams of the I-League against each other based on positions they have finished in on the points table. The games will be played on a home-away basis with team with a better goal aggregate over two legs, progressing further on.
Bengaluru FC managed to put in a light training session on Friday and while Westwood would have liked a less punishing fixture pile-up, he insisted that the Blues won’t be making any excuses when they step out on the pitch. “We couldn’t do too much in training today. It took us 13 hours to get here which does take its toll and which also means we couldn’t train as we would have liked to, today. But that’s just part and parcel of football and we won’t be making any excuses. Tomorrow’s the game and we will do our best.”
Aizawl FC will be looking to prove more than just a point after they failed to beat the drop in what was only their first season in top-flight football. The team from the hills finished 8th on the table, one place above fellow debutants DSK Shivajians FC. But being a corporate entry team, immunity kept the Pune side afloat at the cost of Aizawl FC. Westwood said while he was disappointed at seeing Aizawl FC relegated, he well knows what they are capable of. “When we came here the last time I said that there won’t be many teams that would come to Aizawl and win. And not many did. It’s disappointing to see them relegated because they play good attacking football, have pace and use local talent. They are a good team and we need to play well tomorrow or we will get beaten, it is as simple as that.”
The game kicks off at 3pm.